Ripples & Waves

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Tag: cluster group
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Tap water turning into a pharmaceutical cocktail?


Yes, there are residues of pharmaceuticals in the water all around the globe. In 71 countries and in all continents. And in those countries that are not in this list, you would most certainly find something if one would start looking.

This was, very roughly, the starting point for the workshop on Pharmaceuticals in the Environment, hosted by the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt), the German Ministry for Environment and the consultancies IWW and Adelphi in Geneva 8 and 9 April 2014.

Even though the knowledge base is growing, in most cases there is only rare information about point sources of pharmaceuticals entering the environment. But the largest proportion of emissions is associated with urban sewage – treated or untreated – entering surface water and opening the ways into ground water and drinking water. Still, there are large regional differences when it comes to amounts and combination of substances and of course the infrastructure and technology available to reduce the problem. But no one doubts that there is a problem – on a global scale and of growing importance.

The fact that pharmaceuticals have an impact on the environment is no surprise. They are active substances designed to have an impact on our body. But do we know the effects they have on other organisms? And can we prevent those? Presentations on how birth control pills actually do their job even on fish populations in Canadian lakes or pain killers turned out to also kill Indian vultures underlined the unwanted and most often unexpected and uncontrolled side effects of substances. But still, the discussion on how to weigh in environmental impacts into the approval procedures, procurement or subsidies for pharmaceuticals is tricky and sometimes overridden by the fear of compromising health benefits. On this, there was absolute consensus, though: environmental aspects only come in if there are alternatives with the same efficiency. But it might be worth a thought if substances known to have environmental impacts should be available on prescription only – just like substances that even humans should only take with precaution are not freely available but need a physician to prescribe.

A wide range of initiatives is already taking place. While the workshop was focusing on lifting the issue onto the agenda of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) under the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP, many speakers referred to Swedish activities: The research on emissions from production sites, monitoring of pharmaceuticals in waterbodies, the so called “Wise List” and environmental classification of pharmaceuticals by the Stockholm County Council, the disclosure of environmental information by the pharmaceutical industry on and the comparably well-functioning take-back system, to name but a few.

But how ever effective measures to be applied, there will always remain residues of active substances in the wastewater: to take medicine naturally means to excrete them later on. With this background, discussions targeted on the removal of pharmaceuticals in wastewater treatment and drinking water production on the one hand and on direct measures at the production site on the other hand. To reduce emissions both from private households and from professional healthcare, not only technology is needed, but also a good communication strategy and an easily accessible take-back system. Even the development of “green” pharmaceuticals that quickly break down into harmless parts is seen as a research-task for the industry. An adequate mix of measures will be required, supported by multi stakeholder and multi sector efforts.

To facilitate both network and discussion about water and pharmaceuticals and to link the Swedish actors to relevant international processes, Swedish Water House is starting a cluster group on Water and Pharmaceuticals. Representatives from the Industry, Government and Administration, Healthcare and Water Sectors have already engaged in our dialogue and we will soon identify the key priorities to tackle during 2014 and 2015. The Geneva workshop clearly underlined the wide spectrum of opportunities, stressing that production level, subsidies, procurement, communication, wastewater treatment and take back systems are of equal importance to reduce the release of pharmaceuticals to the environment.

More information:

2014-04-17 Nicolai Schaaf | Tags: water, pharmaceuticals, workshop, Geneva, cluster group
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Nicolai Schaaf,
Programme Officer,
Swedish Water House


Water and energy linkages explored

The Swedish Water House clustergroup on water and energy connections arranged a seminar on the 26th of October at the World Trade Center in Stockholm. The purpose of the event was to introduce a wider audience to issues explored by the group in its work. The seminar started with an introductory background presentation by the group coordinator, providing the setting for coming presentations. The concept of the water and energy nexus was introduced as well as different demand projections for both water and energy resources. The need for systemic approaches to address the issues were also highlighted.

Gustaf Olsson of Lund University deepened the perspectives introduced, by exploring the water content needed for various energy production and the energy required to manage various water systems, stressing that in the future more energy will be required to pump increasingly hard to acess water resources. He then focused more on aspects of hydropower production, explaining the water consumption associated with water storage. He also explored more in detail the energy requirements for treating water, and the energy needed to pump water in different countries.

Klas Cederwall of KTH stressed the need of developing qualified risk perspectives regarding the strategic development of societal development. He gave interesting examples of energy storage in ground- and surface water systems, and highlighted the small-scale peripheral hydropower systems. Turning focus more towards hydropower, Bernt Rydgren of ÅF consulting followed with a presentation describing on-going efforts to make hydropower projects more sustainable by utilizing the recently launched tool called “the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol” developed by IHA. He described the complex tool and the many measures to ensure that best options are utilized throughout the life cycle of a hydropower project. Peter Rudberg of SEI continued on the hydropower track but more localized as he provided a Swedish context to the many challenges and opportunities tied to hydropower in the nation. He pointed out that in Sweden there are lots of activities related to climate change but less so regarding biodiversity loss of Swedish river systems and highlighted the possible problem related to aging permits that current hydropower generation in the country operates with.

During the afternoon session attention shifted towards water linkages to bioenergy. Louise Karlberg of SEI provided a background describing the water dependency/intencity of different bio-fuels. She pointed to the possible conflict of reaching targets of global food security when rising demand for energy/bioenergy competes for existing water resources. She concluded that on a global scale there are enough water resources to cater to both food demands and also some bioenergy development but that caution should be observed at the local level as consequences could be considerable. Following up on that, Mikael Bergius of UMB, Norway, described the prevailing issue of land acquisitions/agro land deals for bio-fuel production and presented a recently concluded study from Tanzania. He concluded that experiences from that specific case showed high risks for local populations in terms of their ability to safe guard agricultural practices and access to natural resources, suggesting that the win-win scenario often  referred to had not materialized in this specific case. He suggested a strong focus on inclusion and dialogue between stakeholders was critical in order for this projects to have positive outcomes. The final presentation of the day was given by Tiina Kikerpuu of SIS describing current work of the Swedish Standards Institute to develop sustainability criteria for Bioenergy in cooperation with developing nations in Eastern Africa and South East Asia. She noted that the standard was developed with the focus on bio-energy trade and provide a tool-set for options assessment for sustainable bioenergy development.

The seminar produced a lot of interesting discussions from an engaged audience and many new perspectives arose enabling interactions between people working in many different fields related to water and energy, adding to the cross-sectorial understanding that is so important when considering the sustainable development of both resources.

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If you live in a city, you may want to read this… / Åse Johannessen

Did you ever hear about the expression 'Resilient cities'? Perhaps you did. This is the theme of the latest campaign by UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) started in 2010 and ongoing until 2015 and beyond. "Another one of those campaigns". Well, don’t be surprised if UNISDR will do it again. With their earlier campaign on ‘Safe schools and hospitals; UNISDR have managed to mobilize action on the ground in an unexpected way. The Resilient Cities campaign can easily become the biggest thing UNISDR has ever done. Cities are quickly becoming the scene for increasingly nasty disasters, and they are - don't be surprised - mostly human made, and the problem is not going away. 70 % of the world’s population will live in cities in 2030. The main causes of disasters are described more in detail in The World Disasters Report 2010 by IFRC1: building in more and more risky places, not robust enough to withstand natural hazards, making humans increasingly vulnerable. Just picture yourself a coastal city with high influx of people settling in unplanned shanty towns. The storms and floods have always been there, we are just building our houses closer to them, without a real choice for many poor people. But solutions are not about technical fix, its more about good governance. Just compare the disaster after the Haiti earthquake in February 2010 with the similar magnitude of earthquake in Chile the same year. In Chile, for example, building codes saved lives. This illustrates the distressing finding that mortality risk from disasters is approximately 225 times greater in low-income countries compared to OECD countries2.

So, not dealing with risk is a social and financial risk. Also ecosystems are negatively affected by disasters. But not dealing with risks properly can also be a political risk, which politicians are painfully aware of, as seen by the recent resignation of the Japanese Prime Minister after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The resilient cities campaign is therefore driven by Mayors who want to make their cities safer and:  1) Know More 2) Invest Wisely 3) Build More Safely. There are about 800 cities already signed up as of August 2011 and the number is increasing like wildfire.

Photo from the discussion on August 26th with Margareta Wahlström and the SWH cluster group for Water and DRR
Photo from the discussion on August 26th with Margareta Wahlström and the SWH cluster group for Water and DRR

The Swedish House cluster group on Water and Disaster Risk Reduction met on the 26th August during the World Water Week with Margareta Wahlström, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction to discuss areas where the cluster group could contribute to the work of UNISDR and in particular the Resilient Cities campaign. There was a very interesting discussion and with many ideas for future work. The group will in the next steps aim to involve the private sector and the financial / insurance sectors to discuss risk considerations in city growth. 

1. International Federation for the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies
2. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2011

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Åse Johannessen, cluster group leader, Water and Disaster Risk Reduction
Åse Johannessen
Leader of the cluster group on Water and Disaster Risk Reduction
Swedish Water House


Transboundary Water Cluster Group Filling the Knowledge Gap / Karin Glaumann

Swedish Water house recently hosted a first meeting for the SWH cluster group on Transboundary water management (TWM). The group was put together as a response to the knowledge gap that exists when it comes to the social and environmental effects of TWM investments. Transboundary waters can be a potential source of conflict in regions of water scarcity and TWM has been a popular method to create cooperation between states and actors without compromising the long-term sustainability of water resources. Although there are many ongoing TWM initiatives taking place in many of the world’s transboundary river basins, we know very little about their effects. Does TWM protect the environment? Can it lead to reduced poverty, economic development and political stability? These are questions that need to be answered.

At the meeting the group agreed that it can contribute with its expertise to the understanding of TWM effects. One way of doing this could be to look at different TWM-cases and see if any general trends can be identified, which might serve as a basis for a model, or method for qualitatively measuring TWM effects. A first cluster group meeting is always confusing. It is the first time the members meet, which also means that different perspectives meet. This can sometimes translate into difficulties in finding a common focus. Nevertheless, I felt very hopeful after our meeting that this group will contribute with important, much-needed knowledge that can motivate decision makers to continue to engage in TWM and thereby increase environmental and social stability in transboundary river basins.

Photo: Manfred Matz.

by Karin Glaumann, Cluster Group Coordinator, SWH


2011-06-15 Karin Glaumann | Tags: transboundary water management, twm, cluster group, karin glaumann
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New Year - New Challenges / Hanna Wolf

With the new year and new challenges comes also new staff. I’m Hanna Wolf and I started last week here at the Swedish Water House and I will be focusing on water and climate. My background is from both the government side and from the NGO-side working with climate and development so I’m sure I will enjoy working here.

Swedish Water House kick started its activities in 2010 with strategic and practical planning. I can promise water will definitely be put on the climate agenda this year.

Hannah Stoddart from Stakeholder Forum came over from London to discuss how to move on after COP 15 and strategise towards COP 16 in our joint project, the GPPN ( Inspired from last year’s success we can promise a Water Day also in 2010 that will identify the cross-cutting impacts of water on a diversity of livelihoods, sectors and ecosystems.

Swedish Water House will of course also continue being the meeting place for dialogue within the international policy development and cooperation in the water and development field with seminars and workshops. Furthermore the cluster groups will keep working on their different focus areas; Water & Rights, Climate, Water & Vulnerability and Swedish Environmental Flows Initiative. Are you interested to join, please read more about the cluster groups here.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy 2010 and a warm welcome to network with us at the Swedish Water House!

By the keyboard,
Hanna Wolf


2010-01-25 | Tags: COP-15, COP-16, GPPN, cluster group, Hanna Wolf
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